*Super-fast Spaniard continues WTCR glory chase in all-new CUPRA *Switch to Zengő Motorsport signals start of new era for WTCR race winner *Azcona: “I felt really strong when I knew I could battle with the top drivers”
Graduating to the WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup for 2019 as the reigning TCR Europe champion, Mikel Azcona was expected to impress but quickly exceeded expectations with a podium on his first weekend in the series and a breakthrough victory at WTCR Race of Portugal on the streets of Vila Real. He returns for 2020 armed with the all-new CUPRA Leon Competición having signed for top Hungarian team Zengő Motorsport.
Having left it late to announce your 2020 plans, how pleased are you to be back in WTCR?
“I was thinking two weeks ago that I will not drive this year in WTCR because there was not the opportunity, but finally we made a deal with Zengő Motorsport and I feel really, really happy. Since I finished the last season in Malaysia, I started to prepare for 2020. I know that WTCR is the highest level of touring car and it’s really, really difficult because there are many really good drivers. But I have to use this opportunity like it’s the last one. From the moment I started the training for 2020 I feel I am in the best moment of my career since it began. Now I really want the season to start, especially because I will drive the new CUPRA.”
How ready do you feel?
“We will go to the first round with no testing but all the other teams are testing like normal. I don’t feel so bad about that because the good thing for me is that I can adapt for every moment for every track, really fast. Now I have to train a lot on the simulator to be 100 per cent sure that I will be in the right position for the first round. I also have to get to know my new team, ZengőMotorsport, but together we can do a really good job.”
You mentioned the new CUPRA Leon Competición, what’s the car like to drive?
“The feeling obviously is better because we are comparing one car from 2014 and one car from 2020. The change to the car is totally different, we are making this car for the WTCR. We improved in several points. We are winning in small details and I think we can do a really good year.”
Can you explain how the new CUPRA is different from its predecessor?
“Several small changes have been made but the one big change from the last car is the aerodynamics. We reduce the drag but at the same time we increase the downforce, which is very good for the higher speed corners as we can enter a bit faster, which I like a lot. With the old car we were always battling with the understeer on this type of corner. We have also made a big change to the brakes but the aerodynamic change is the biggest.”
Despite the lack of WTCR racing you’ve kept busy competing in Spain and online…
“I am doing the Spanish Endurance Championship, driving a CUPRA TCR for my Spanish team. It’s really good for me because I am always in the car. The level of this championship is not the same as WTCR but I am always around the car, working with mechanics and engineers, improving every weekend, not only with the driving but knowing how to improve and change the car.”
You’ve also be very active in simracing. How can you use that experience to your advantage?
“It’s a very good tool for the driver, especially for me because I train really a lot on the simulator. Almost every track was new for me last year so I used the simulator a lot to know the tracks, the reference, the gears, the kerbs. More or less I do 200 laps before every race weekend and when I started the first free practice, I knew everything about the track. Since the first lap I can go to the limit very easy. Of course, I have to improve during the real laps but I know where I have to brake, which gear I have to use, if I have to take the inside or not, the grass, everything.”
How excited are you to have a home race this season?
“I started in touring car at MotorLand Aragón in 2011, my first test in the Clio Cup was there so I know very well this track and I like it. Of course, it is a race I will really try to win because it’s my home track and I will feel a lot of support.”
You started 2019 as a bit of an unknown quantity but you will begin this season as a favourite. What do you put that transformation down to?
“We came to Marrakech last year as the TCR Europe champion but we knew the level in WTCR would be higher. When I started in WTCR my expectations were to have a lot of experience and do my best like always. But the result was really good since the first round in Marrakech. We took the podium position in the second race and after that result I felt really strong because we saw we could battle with the top drivers. This feeling was the key for the rest of the season. The feeling last year was really good but at the same time I had to improve in a short time because all tracks were new. For me, compared to the other drivers, it was a bit more difficult in this aspect. If you can see my results on the Friday and the Saturday, they were worse than the Sunday. Each day I was driving better and finished the season in Malaysia battling with the world champion Norbert Michelisz and Esteban Guerrieri. We finished in a really high level and that is the reason why I was very motivated to drive again in 2020 because I know the tracks, the series and I believe I can push a bit more. And it’s very important for me to have a home race at MotorLand Aragón.”
Finally, it’s fair to say the 2019 season ended in controversy following your collision with Esteban Guerrieri. What will it be like when you see him in the paddock for the first time?
“I don’t have problems about what happened to be honest. I’m the same person I always was. He knows perfectly what happened all day long. I’m here in the WTCR with a clear goal, to win on the track. This is motorsport, this is racing and this is why we are all here.”